I am way behind even the casual hardcore wave hitting the fog-filled forests of Mirkwood, but I am steadily plodding along like an old work horse. I usually follow the quest hubs pretty closely, and I maintain the epic quest to “match” the geographic location. This is even more doable now that Turbine has given players the choice to do Volume 2, Book 9 solo or with a group.
The story thus far in Volume 2, Book 9 is that I have to transport the most badass orc west of Mordor to the gates of Dol Guldur in the hopes I can do a prisoner exchange. Nevermind the fact that if I were the Nazgul in charge I would just shoot them all dead (including the orc) as they approached my tower, and I am surprised that the elves think this outcome will be any different. Anyway, it is a secret mission that uses the actual Siege as a cover. We take the mithril-shackled Mazog through the backwoods so Dol Guldur will not know of our approach.
In Chapter 3, Midnight in the Drownholt, I felt that my solo instance somehow transcended normal gameplay in to something meaningful. Where I was, momentarily, the hero.
The solo instance is pretty cool on its own. I dragged – and by dragged I mean Mazog lead me – the shackled orc-leader through a deadly swamp to elven checkpoints. At each checkpoint a member of the Hidden Guard with a banner stopped me. I could control the special powers of the specific Hidden Guard with the banner as deadly fauna would try and eat us. The whole way, especially while Mazog ran ahead of me, the ugly orc would potshhot me with insults.
These insults are crucial to the feeling of the instance because they are, at the same time, humorous and annoying. I couldn’t help but read them, and I couldn’t help but wish I could beat Mazog in to silence. The person that created Mazog’s speech did a great job at walking a very hard line. It was simply immersive.
Anyway, Mazog is running me to another checkpoint and behold an elf has succumbed to the deadly swamp animals. The orc knows that I alone cannot hold him, and he takes off running to kill the next elf. This is the critical part. He is not just running off to save himself. He and I know that the broken chain of elf waypoints has caused a weakness in our plan to carry the prisoner across the swamp. So it becomes a race of life or death of another. Someone’s life is in my hands, and I can save her.
This was brilliant. The developers could have brought the rear checkpoints forward (like they do later in Chapter 8). They could have easily done a solo fight, where I bash the gimped orc to submission. They could have put my life on the line, which is par for the course almost every other time. But, they didn’t. They stayed away from the usual boss-like mechanics, and used something just a little different. For one moment, they made me the hero. My heart was pounding as I swim-jumped to the will-o-wisps guidelights trying desparately to get ahead of Mazog. The change of pace from waylay battle-intermission-waylay battle to run-your-heart-out was so sudden and surprising it caught me off guard. I was already emotionally invested from all of Mazog’s insults, and now I was just given the do-or-die flip flop.
I believe that this might be a discriminating feature between group play and solo play. In group play we cannot help but become emotionally invested in the actions of our fellow humans. Even if we are not leading the social stigma operates in our every placement, comment, and button press. Eru forbid we be the ones that caused the wipe. In solo play, it’s our own little sandbox. So for a developer to actually get a player emotionally invested in an NPC is feat in itself. Turbine did a great job with Narmeleth and Dad in Volume 1, but some questionable gameplay in Volume 1 and greedy-dwarf stories in Volume 2 have tampered that feeling a bit.
This feeling has also since evaporated as the emo-Hidden Guard of Volume 2, Book 9 gets ever filled with dread and gloom at spiders and what not. The dichotomy that occurs between me questing in the Scuttledells and killing hundreds of foul things and the elite Hidden Guard going cowardly on one Scuttledells spider brood while trying to transport Mazog is not lost on me. But, I remember fondly my death race through the swamp, and it gives me hope that I will find more gems in the coming quests.
we can’t become the same